Our Favorite Place in Oaxaca Mexico

On our first day in Oaxaca we stumbled, as if by accident though I am sure it was fate, onto the Centro Académico y Cultural San Pablo. We were drawn in by the herringbone pattern on the ground made with carefully laid bricks and the cropped grass growing in between them. We walked further in to see that when the regular pattern of the floor met the white-washed walls of the courtyard the it seemed to erupt into a riotous display of wall hugging cacti.

We were immediately hooked “THIS is EXACTLY what I want our house to look like when we grow up” I breathed to Tom, and he was in total agreement. We continued to explore the academic and cultural center and exclaimed to one another at each new facet of beautiful unique architecture, gorgeous water fountain or beautiful art installation.

The center immediately felt like our very own secret place in Oaxaca. When we showed it to our friends Simon and Erin I caught myself saying, “this is our library, the WiFi is screaming fast, and this is our glass-barred window, and don’t you love our triangle wall?!” Ooops, I mean THE library, THE glass-barred window and THE triangle wall…

We found one excuse or another to visit almost every day, either to work in the library, which we quickly started calling “the office” or to check out one of the free films or art exhibits there, or just to use the restroom or to take a mini -break from running around town to relax in the gorgeous courtyard. There is a restaurant on the premises as well, called SP restaurante. It is quite pricey and so we only ate there one time. We thought that there wasn’t too much to recommend it, other than the beautiful view over our the courtyard.

Do you want to do it too?

The San Pablo Academic and Cultural Center is located at:

Hidalgo 907, Centro Histórico
Oaxaca, Mexico

The library is in a beautiful glass-windowed room with very fast Wifi, so is a great option if you are looking for a quiet place to work. The gallery always has a different art exhibit or two up and there seemed to be different free events or workshops going on almost daily. Check out their facebook page to see what events they have going on, or better yet stop by and check out the board covered in flyers and calendars of events.

Have you ever found a place while traveling that felt like it was your little secret? A place that maybe felt like it was built just for you?


I think of California as officially "home" but can usually be found a lot closer to the equatorial belt. After finishing a Masters program in 2011 I found myself trying to decide between a couple of different high-powered career options. I decided I wasn't quite ready to "grow up" and went with an entirely different plan which involved selling off everything I owned with my partner Tom and buying a one-way ticket to Colombia. Our plan was to travel "Till The Money Ran Out" and then go home to start our grown-up lives. Instead, we started our own app development company on the road and have been criss-crossing the globe, traveling, working, eating spicy food and refusing to "grow up" ever since. You can find me on Twitter, , Facebook or send me a message using our About Us page.

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7 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    We didn’t see this in Oaxaca, but it’s SO cool! That herringbone brickwork is amazing. It looks so serene. I have a feeling we’ll be back to that city.

  2. Jenia says:

    This is what i want my yard to look like too!! Beautiful patterns – thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Britt says:

    I am bookmarking this for Mexico next year!

    It’s always the totally unplanned, spur of the moment places/museums/sights that surprise you the most!

  4. I love the rich patterns, the tactile textures, the variety of shapes – It hits the spot on so many sensual levels… and that’s through a computer screen!
    What an inspiring building –
    I think there’ll be a few of us cribbing off this for design inspiration of our ideal space 🙂

  5. Roxana says:

    Jenny, I’m so glad you like(d) ‘my’ Centro Cultural de San Pablo! ;>)

    I am a fulltime resident of Oaxaca, live only 3.5 blocks from the CCSP presently (though hope to move into the Sierra Norte), and also find this place as peaceful and beautiful as you do. I usually cut through the courtyard on my way to and from other destinations just to get that bit of park-like atmosphere in my day. The gorgeous old classic green-stone buildings used to be a convent and were purchased by the ex-president of Banamex (Alfredo Harp Helu) – he inherited that from his grandfather and sold out to Citigroup a few years back – and converted into one of several cultural and educational properties (including a children’s library in a northern part of town called Xochimilco) now part of the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation.

    I don’t know if the restaurant is an official part of CCSP, but there is a small cafe on the south side of the courtyard that is; there is also another small ‘gallery’ and/or performance space with an entrance on Independencia that was just completed last year. You are right that there are a host of free weekly cultural events (lots of concerts, artesania fairs and events, films, workshops) all year-round at CCSP (as well as at the other locations) that can be found listed in a monthly schedule published and distributed at various locations around town (hint: the bulletin board mostly concerns events elsewhere in town). Maybe you did not notice that there is a child’s reading room just off the courtyard; I can’t be sure, but it might be somewhat of a ‘childcare center’ as well.

    The Foundation focuses a lot of its resources and attention on children and involving them in activities that educate, promote and maintain the cultural art forms from around the state: music (particularly classical), all aspects of the creation and production of handmade clothing, woodworking, pottery, and the righteously world-famous gastronomic accomplishments of this area, to name just a few.

    They also support the growing movement away from the use of chemicals and GMO foods (initiated by the North American Free Trade Agreement – NAFTA – in 1994) and a return to organic farming methods. Just last night, I attended a large private fundraising event hosted by UNAM (the University of Mexico) at CCSP at which three young women organic farmers from a small village in the foothills east of Oaxaca (San Miguel del Valle) made a bilingual presentation (English and Zapotec) asking for financial support to purchase materials to construct greenhouses (to protect their plants from bugs and bad weather) and water tanks (to conserve water in times of shortage).

    You didn’t mention (perhaps you missed it) the stunning Museo de Textiles right next door on Hildalgo, which is considered part of the CCSP. There is a gallery on the main floor and another upstairs, which contain rotating exhibits of beautiful handmade, woven, and embroidered textiles from all over Oaxaca state (and sometimes from other places in the world). There is also a (very expensive) shop, with ‘museum-quality’ handmade clothing and jewelry for sale to the left at the entrance. This museum is also free, though donations are accepted.

    Anyone passing through Oaxaca misses what is arguably the most wonderful place in town if they do not visit (all of) the San Pablo Academic and Cultural Center, more locally known as the Centro Cultural de San Pablo (CCSP).

    Safe journeys.

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